Proving that she could match enthusiasm with organization, Michele Bachmann won the Ames Straw Poll today, catapulting her into into the next phase of the Republican presidential primary.
"Now it's on to all 50 states," Bachmann said in front of her campaign bus minutes after the results were announced. She thanked Iowans for her support. "God bless you, everyone."
But the results of the contest here also dealt a potentially devastating blow to Tim Pawlenty, who despite weeks of crisscrossing the state to boost support for his candidacy, trailed in a distant third place behind both Bachmann and second-place finisher Ron Paul.
"I want to congratulate Congresswoman Bachmann on her victory in today's straw poll. I'm also very proud of the work my campaign has done, and I appreciate their hard work," Pawlenty said in a statement. "As I've said all along, we needed to show progress to do well, and we did just that. This is a long process to restore America -- we are just beginning, and I'm eager for the campaign."
Bachmann, who has been firing up crowds across Iowa all week, received a total of 4,823 votes out of a total 16,892 votes cast, which topped the 2007 total of 14,302. Less than 200 votes separated Bachmann from Paul, who received 4,671 votes.
"I think we did very well," Paul said in a brief as he left the campus of Iowa State University where the straw poll was held.
Pawlenty's weak showing -- more than 2,500 votes behind Bachmann -- will inevitably lead to talk about whether he will be able to continue his presidential bid.
At a breakfast with reporters earlier this week, Pawlenty acknowledged "if we do really bad, we'll have to reassess," suggesting that at the very least a campaign shake-up may be in the works.
The results came on a day when the 2012 Republican field added another high-profile contender, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who received 718 write-in votes, surpassing the 567 total votes cast for GOP front-runner Mitt Romney.
Bachmann, whose campaign faced a controversy over whether a magazine cover photo and a debate question directed at her were sexist, becomes the first woman to ever win the Ames Straw poll.
"I want to thank all of the wonderful people of Iowa. Thank you everyone, we did this together. "What we saw happen today was this is the very first step towards taking back the White House in 2012 and you have just sent a message that Barack Obama will be a one-term president," Bachmann said. "This was a wonderful downpayment on taking the country back and it started in Iowa. You've done it Iowa, thank you."
Although the importance of the contest has been a matter of some debate, since 1987, the first or second-place finisher in the straw poll has gone on to win the Iowa Caucuses.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who spent hours at the Iowa State Fair despite the fact that her name was not on the official ballot today, did not show up in the list of candidates receiving votes.
Proving the influence that social conservatives have within the Iowa Republican Party, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who has made moral values a centerpiece of his campaign finished in fourth place with 1,657 votes -- just 636 behind Pawlenty.
Santorum suggested this week that he needed at least a fifth place finish to remain viable in the race.
Gov. Rick Perry Enters GOP Field Far From Iowa Straw Poll
Meanwhile, Perry announced his candidacy for president on a dais in a Charleston, S.C., hotel surrounded by American flags at the Red State Conference.
And while the candidates in Iowa threw red meat to their audiences -- attacks on "Obamacare" and federal spending as well as calls for respect for traditional marriage and an end to abortion -- Perry gave a presidential speech.
Focused almost exclusively on the economy and jobs, Perry made the case for his own economic cred while attacking Obama's record.
In Iowa, the strongest applause lines were those referencing abortion or gay marriage, not jobs or economic issues.
"I tell people that everything I needed to know in life I learned in Iowa," Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann told the audience in the Hilton Coliseum on the campus of Iowa State University.
Bachmann emphasized her Iowa roots time and time again in her speech, from noting that "the crops are growing" to touting that she is "a seventh-generation Iowan," even though she moved to Minnesota when she was 12 and is now a congresswoman for the North Star state.
"My mother and father taught us to always love Iowa," she continued. "They said, 'Be grateful that you're from Iowa. Iowa is the breadbasket of the world. We feed millions of people from Iowa. Be grateful.' So I have always been grateful that I am an Iowan and I believe it's time we had an Iowan in the White House."
Pivoting away from the heavy economic focus of his speeches from the past week, Paul told a crowd in Ames "you have to understand where that liberty and that life comes from. It does not come from the government. It comes from our creators."
During his remarks, he recalled some graphic stories from his time as an obstetrics-gynecology resident to explain his opposition to abortion rights. Paul said that in the 1960s, physicians were "defying the law in doing abortions," and told a story of seeing how doctors delivered a baby via Caesarean section and then "put it in a bucket in the corner of the room and let it die and pretended nobody heard it."
Tim Pawlenty focused his speech on taking jabs at Obama.
"Barack Obama's rhetoric doesn't get us a job, does it?" Pawlenty asked -- and the crowd roared "No!"
"Is it time for Barack Obama to go?" he continued -- and the crowd roared "Yes!"
Pawlenty said voters can trust him not just to talk the talk, but to walk the walk, something that he said Obama has failed to do.
"For us, too, it's got to be more than words. We've got to deliver," he said. "So I stand before you as a candidate who stakes his claim to Iowa and his claim in this race here today in large part on the fact that I just don't talk about it. We get the job done for Minnesota and for America."
These GOP candidates' goal in Ames was to get the faithful to vote in a straw poll. Perry's was to prove that he can appeal to the broadest swath of GOP voters while also addressing the concerns of independents and not-as-committed Republicans.
Bachmann won the Ames Straw Poll, but Perry won the message war -- today. But, it remains to be seen how well he stays on message once he leaves the comfort of the small stage in Charleston and has to get on the national stage next week.